ADEN (Reuters) - Local fighters and army units backed by Yemen’s exiled government have taken control of Tawahi, the last district of central Aden still held by the Iran-allied Houthi militia and its allies, a spokesman for the fighters said on Monday.
Assisted by Saudi-led air strikes, the local forces broke months of stalemate in Aden last week by suddenly seizing the airport and advancing into other parts of the port city held by the Houthis and forces loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Late on Monday a car blast outside a mosque used by the Houthis in Sanaa killed five people and injured seven others, police sources and medics said, and was swiftly claimed by the local branch of Islamic State group.
Yemen’s chaos has given more opportunities to Sunni Muslim jihadist groups, who have consolidated their hold over eastern parts of the country and regard the Houthis, who mostly belong to the Shi’ite Zaydi sect, as heretics.
Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen’s war on March 26 in an effort to stop Houthi and pro-Saleh forces taking Aden, the last city nominally controlled by exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government, and to restore him to power in Sanaa.
The Saudis fear that their main regional adversary Iran will use its alliance with the Houthis to project power into Yemen, eventually threatening the southern border of the world’s No. 1 oil exporting country.
Fighters from the Southern Resistance, which wants the former state of south Yemen to break from the north after 25 years of unification, entered Tawahi, at the tip of Aden’s peninsula, late on Sunday after securing the Crater district.
They took control of the television and radio buildings, and army and security bases in fierce fighting, the group’s spokesman Ali al-Ahmadi said.
Local fighters and Yemeni army units are also battling the Houthis and Saleh’s forces around important military bases in Lahj province, to Aden’s north, and in Abyan province, along the Indian Ocean coast east of the city.
Saudi-led coalition air strikes on Sunday night killed 20 civilians in Saada, the Houthi stronghold in northern Yemen, the country’s Houthi-controled Saba News Agency, said on Monday, describing the raid as “a crime of aggression”.
Shelling by Houthi and pro-Saleh forces in the Dar Saad district of Aden on Sunday, which killed at least 43 people, was indiscriminate and targeted an area where many displaced people live, the international aid group Medecins sans Frontieres said.
“Over the course of just a few hours yesterday, Doctors Without Borders teams in ... Aden received 150 people wounded in reprisal attacks by Houthi fighters, among them women, children and the elderly,” MSF said in a statement.
Fighting continued between local coalition-backed fighters and Houthi-pro-Saleh forces in Taiz, a major central city north of Aden, in Marib, a tribal area east of Sanaa, and around al-Dhala, northeast of Aden.
Although the Southern Resistance and other local groups are backed by Hadi and his government in Riyadh, it is not clear whether they would eventually support his reinstatement.
Additional reporting by Mohammed Ghobari in Sanaa and Sandy Azmy in Dubai, Writing by Angus McDowall, Editing by Angus MacSwan